Labor observes Workers Memorial Day

Stephon Johnson | 5/2/2019, 10:25 a.m.

April 28 marked Workers Memorial Day. Unions honored their fallen and released reports on the numbers of workers who’ve recently perished.

Members of the Independent Drivers Guild, a Machinists Union affiliate, recently gathered with community activists and clergy at the site where Uber driver Bing Wan, 45, was killed in a hit-and-run in October. According to the IDG, at least 40 workers have died on the job in New York City since the last Workers Memorial Day with the construction industry alone suffering 16 casualties.

“Bing Wan was a hardworking driver and beloved father struck down before his time. We have mourned the loss of too many for-hire vehicle drivers in the last two years,” stated IDG Executive Director Brendan Sexton. “Whether struck by reckless drivers, like Wan, stabbed to death like Ganiou Gandonou, or by taking their own lives under the financial strain of this industry, like Drivers Guild members Doug Schifter, Fausto Luna and Lu Wu.”

The AFL-CIO honored Workers Memorial Day by releasing an annual report on the numbers of work-based casualties. In 2017 alone, 5,147 workers were killed on the job and close to 95,000 people died as a result of occupational diseases. On average, 275 American workers die due to hazardous working conditions. According to the report, it’s also the third year in a row that workplace violence injuries increased with close to 29,000 workers suffering violence-related injuries in 2017 via assault on the job.

“This is a national crisis. And it’s well past time that our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., stop playing politics and take action to prevent these tragedies,” stated AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Instead, the Trump administration is actually gutting the protections we fought so hard to win in the first place. This is unacceptable. It’s shameful. And the labor movement is doing everything in our power to stop it.”

“Whenever a worker dies on the job, we have to ask ourselves: did we, as a society, do everything we could for this worker?” stated New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health Executive Director Charlene Obernauer. “Today, we commemorate workers who lost their lives, but we also call on our government to do more to protect workers.”

The AFL-CIO’s report, titled “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect,” did find a small decrease in overall fatal job injuries in 2017, but little change in the overall job fatality rate. Recently, Trumka has come out in support of the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), which is designed to help prevent workplace violence in high-risk sectors. Trumka blames President Donald Trump’s administration for turning a blind eye to worker-related hardships.

The report also found that Latino workers and immigrant Latino workers have the highest risk for dying on the job. Deaths of Latino and immigrant Latino workers increased in 2017 (903), with most of the increase among American-born Latinos.

New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said that the future of workers is the future of society.

“Even one death on the job is one death too many,” stated Alvarez. “This is why it is so crucial that working people have a voice in the workplace, and that they organize, fight and demand action from employers and their government. We’re proud to partner today with NYCOSH and the Independent Drivers Guild to formally recognize and honor those who have been lost, and to renew our struggle for safe workplaces.”